A girl in a yellow rain cape sings from the floor, lying on her side yet still possessing a powerful voice. It’s as if Lisa Minelli were one of the Babes in the Wood but had the crooning tones of Ella Fitzgerald. Nora introduces Shea, and tells us a little about her life-defining problem – an extreme fear of death. Still prone, Shea is gently woken up, and persuaded to do the show.
Voiceovers from her mother, father and boyfriend confirm that Shea has had these fears ever since she was a small girl. The voices are warm and caring, and not without their own comic charm; her mother describes how she would like to sleep in the same bed to combat her nightmares, but as is the way with any child, she took over all the available space. Gradually they bring us up to date, with her strange designs for a burglar alarm – based on ping-pong balls and tambourines – stimulated by news of a neighbourhood burglar in 2015. The reference to 2015 rings home; what we have now is full-on current trauma, not just the distant legacy of childhood nightmares.
Shea and Nora’s show is part memoir, part physical comedy, part stand-up, part story-telling. A gentle meditation on friendship is seen through the narrative. Shea has the most extraordinarily expressive face, which she uses to convey all sorts of other-worldly feelings, all doable in the small intimate venue that is the Blue Man; a setting that is beautifully appropriate for this kind of storytelling.
Shea is both of her story and in it at the same time, allowing others to explain what is happening – with feeling, but from an objective perspective – while she witnesses their descriptions, and to a certain extent witnesses her own mental fragility. Over the course of the show she is confronted (as the stories are told), has to explore and tell (in movement, word and song), and is comforted. All three of these approaches allow the show to sum up her morbidity, without giving into it – and it’s the friendship and care that supports her that comes across as the lifeline, in what, to her, is a life-threatening world.
The humour is quirky and gentle, with a nice eye for visual comedy and movement, and the show is a celebration of the way in which her mental health issues are mediated by friendship and the right kind of unjudgemental support. It’s an all-round experience and worth catching if you can.